The Neurodivergent Shadows in Us

There are going to be spoilers for Jordan Peele’s film Us, this movie that’s been out for months now, but sometimes that’s just how it has to be, and it wouldn’t make sense if I attempted to do anything else. Also, I am writing specifically about my personal experiences in relating to both this film and the following subject matter with which I try to engage.

Like Terry from his Gayly Dreadful article Tethered to the Closet, I knew practically from the beginning that Adelaide Wilson wasn’t “normal” and that, eventually when I learned about them, she was one of the Tethered. However, the difference I want to make clear is that while Terry related to her as someone coming to terms with being gay, I am not on the LGBTQ spectrum at all, I am also not American, and part of my reasoning for thinking she was one of the Tethered is because I am fairly good at guessing twist endings: being a writer, and a geek.

Yet there’s another reason why I can relate to Adelaide, and the Tethered.

Like Adelaide, I grew up as a child in the 1980s. And like the Tethered, who replaces her, who was the original Red and becomes the Adelaide that we know as the protagonist of Us, I grew up with developmental issues. I’ve talked about them before. These days, I would be called non-neurotypical, or neuro-divergent. My brain is wired differently from some perceived baseline in the mainstream population. I learn and I react in other ways in contrast to the current social paradigm. But, growing in the public school system of Canada and North America itself, I was given another label.

I am learning disabled.

Diagnosis is still relatively confusing to this day. Some of my disabilities could be confused with aspects of what some experts call the autistic spectrum, while many of my challenges have — ironically enough — been classified under the umbrella of nonverbal learning disorders.

Of course, I am not saying that the Tethered are the same — seeming to be clones of citizens created by the American government with their own developmental issues either by accident or design — but some of their characteristics can be seen as symbolic as some kinds of neuro-diverse behaviour. Terry, and other writers examining Adelaide focus on how she has a different, or inverted, sense of rhythm compared to others such as when she’s attempting to snap with the music that her husband Gabe is playing on the car radio. I remember her trying to also show her son, Jason, how to do the same thing: and this feeling I couldn’t describe came over me watching her. She looked both happy, and vulnerable, and awkward but genuine in that moment. It is a situation that the actress Lupita Nyong’o portrays well. She has, to some extent, learned how to match the rhythm, or mimic it enough where she is only slightly off. And aside from not being one for small-talk, no one can really tell the difference. Adelaide seems normal on a cursory glance.

She can pass as mundane.

At the beginning of the film, Adelaide is lost as a child in a boardwalk mirror house on the Santa Cruz beach. When she is found again, or seems to come out of the establishment, she seems to be rendered mute. Of course, we realize later that this isn’t the Adelaide that went in there, but rather the Tethered girl Red who has not learned how to vocalize, and her hand-eye coordination is relatively sloppy and haphazard. Her parents believe that something traumatic happened to her when her father lost track of her. They get her to see a therapist, they enroll her in dance courses — in ballet specifically — and she acclimates after a while.

When I was a child, I didn’t vocalize. Not really. I communicated in gestures, and grunts. It is one of the reasons I couldn’t stay in a mainstream daycare or kindergarten. My hand-eye coordination was also terrible: having what is called motor clumsiness. I didn’t really learn how to walk until later in my developmental period. My parents had me see therapists. I even had physiotherapist sessions where I rolled around on a giant ball and developed my reflexes more. My parents also enrolled me in a specialized kindergarten for children with special needs called Adventure Place. In fact, I had gotten so used to being there that when my parents were told I could attend mainstream public schooling, or I had to, I was so confused by the idea of “recess” and time before class that I got lost my first day at Thornhill Public School. And then, another time, I stayed on the school bus and the driver accidentally drove away with me: completely terrifying my parents even though I had, apparently, dozed off and had a nap.

I mean, I guess at anyone of those times I could have — or someone like me — could have found myself in one of those subterranean places filled with rabbits not unlike Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or its original title Alice’s Adventures Underground where I found a Shadow: not unlike those whom are forced to suppress their own feelings and mirror the actions those of their counterparts above ground against their will from the story that Red told Adelaide.

Do you want to know what I remember the most about my time as a child in the 80s, outside of therapy and all encompassing special educational spaces?

I was afraid. All the time.

My main memories of Thornhill Public School, were the dingy, yet antiseptic halls of the school itself with their old copper-coloured rubber glue stoppers, the long grey crooked scissors we used in art classes, and just how dark and old the basement was where the janitors had their office. I remember not wanting to be there, and wanting to be at home. I just wanted to go home.

At the same time, this was the period of the Beetlejuice cartoons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Fraggle Rock, and the Dark Crystal comics as well as You Can’t Do That On Television on YTV. Adelaide herself had C.H.U.D., The Goonies, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller in her early life, and while I hadn’t been exposed to 1980s horror and specifically those adventure art movies at that time, they were on my popular cultural periphery and they would have intersected. And I was always both fascinated and terrified by horror in the form of hearing about such movies, and also folktales. I fed off of these elements, and they became part of my intellectual DNA, especially when in my Special Education class with Mr. Phillips I learned how to actually read from Grades 1-3.

They got me through a lot of the fear, but I still remember those halls and that basement: a place not unlike the underground facility where Red — before she was Adelaide — then Adelaide herself having been captured and abandoned by Red — and all the other Tethered clones wandered around aimlessly. It always occurred to me just how easy it would be to get lost in those corridors, and looking at the Tethered, few can be as lost as they.

Even though my perceptions improved, I still had — and still have — spatial difficulties. I get lost all the time, and directions as well as maps don’t always make sense. I also have dyscalculia: a learning disorder that makes arithmetic extremely difficult to do in my head. I can add and subtract, but I am slow at it, and I can’t multiply or divide without extreme challenge, or a calculator.

I also used to fidget a great deal — and I still do. Usually, it is a way to express excitement, anxiety, stress, or all of the above. I’ve learned to control it publicly for the most part, but the mileage can vary depending on the circumstances and my comfort level. Sometimes, when I get into that state, it is a lot like a free-form dancing: and it reminds me of Adelaide’s own dance and ballet classes as she was growing up on the surface.

And then there is communication. Like I said earlier, in the beginning I barely if ever used words to communicate. And, even now, when I’m nervous I will either ramble a great deal to make up for a perceived lack of content on my part, or I will be quiet and utilize few words. Even looking at how Adelaide talks with Kitty Tyler on the beach, or has difficulty talking or expressing her emotions to her own husband reminds me of my own impatience, or discomfort with small talk — which I generally try to compensate by talking about very specific topics of my interest, and not always the other person’s next to me — as well as my challenges expressing myself in a public, or even personal situation.

I know I really felt for Adelaide when she was attempting to communicate with her husband about her feelings: about her lack of comfort being in Santa Cruz, and even her annoyance with him for making fun of her quirks. I’ve had that happen a lot: from children laughing at my slow talking or thinking, and authority figures telling me to stop talking to myself (as if I were embarrassing myself and not them), and even having partners who just didn’t understand why I couldn’t be more like everyone else. That is the social interaction disorder element of some learning disabilities coming into play. It’s frustrating. It is beyond frustrating. When I was in daycare, before Adventure Place, I apparently did not want to talk or interact with my peers. I just wanted to stay in my own world. And I recall feeling a lot of anger and resentment for having to be with others who either made fun of me, or just didn’t understand me at all.

Even later, having gotten more therapy, I would often not cut or make my art the way I wanted to, and I would get frustrated with my tools — with my hands — and my own coordination to the point where I would destroy what I was working on because it didn’t meet my own expectations. My psychotherapist has asked me on occasion whether I sometimes feel toxic inside, or outside: and often I say I feel both for this reason. And I can only imagine Adelaide, especially with her experiences having gotten out of the facility underground, and adapting to the world above, having similar feelings and thoughts.

And I adapted too. I went to Special Education classes, but aside from those I focused on my strengths. Whereas someone like Adelaide delved into dancing and ballet, I attempted to become an artist, and eventually a writer. Overtime, as I went through the ranks of the public school system and university, I weeded out the courses I had difficulty with and focused purely on my strengths. Eventually, in my own mind, while taking advantage of the extra time afforded me because I was a learned disabled student, I came across as normal. I could be like everyone else. I could be “high-functioning.”

I could pass.

But I never really did. And while Terry, in his “Tethered to the Closet” article talks about that deep, dark Shadow secret of his sexuality has he attempted to pass on the sexuality spectrum, I tried to pass on a psychological and developmental one, while knowing — deep down — that there was something in me that set me apart from a lot of my peers: that it was always there, that it will always be there, and I will eventually go back to it.

I did. A lot. I had to ask for extra time. Sometimes I needed further clarification for my tasks. And then, by the time I made to York University, I needed the label and diagnosis to accord me extra time to remain in my Graduate Program just to maintain my full-time status with only half a course load.

Yet that anger, it never goes away. That frustrated, helpless anger. The kind you have in the dark where you can’t talk, or relate. Where you can’t express your emotions. Or the very least, you can’t do any of these things in an acceptable way to the society or space with which you find yourself. People laugh at you. Or bully you. Or worse: sometimes, they just interact with you out of some sense of pity.

So you take those elements of yourself. You face yourself in that mirror much like Red and Adelaide faced each other in that fun house near the beach. You strangle it. You push it down. You chain it to a bunk post, take the T-Shirt, and hope no one realizes that you are an intruder: that you are wrong. But you even when you play along with your parents, as much as possible, even when you find a hobby, find a field to work in and justify your existence — even when you make relationships — that part of you that you thought you could hide, even in plain sight, will always be there. It will always be waiting.

And the society that you grew in? That made you? It does it to control everyone to an extent. It wants you to conform so that you don’t make anyone else comfortable. But it only goes so far. For me, I had all of that “extra help” until I was done with school, or rather school had been done with me.  Then there was no structure, nothing but more antiseptic institutions that arbitrarily help or condemn you like welfare and disability offices and organizations that force you to embrace your disabilities as your identity — the very thing you spend ages attempting to wean yourself away from — while mostly leaving you to wander around like Tethered clones abandoned by their creators when they couldn’t control them, or use them to control others.

The structure is gone. You are just lucky at times to have a place that will still feed and clothe you. And, meanwhile, other people have jobs, families, relationships, and something fulfilling while — often enough — you feel that a lot of them have an emptiness inside of them that mirrors your own, but they are just less honest about it. They have the appearance, the passing, of knowing who they are, and what they are going to be.

And I think at this point, I am talking less about relating to Adelaide and more about relating to the Tethered: to the quiet, angry, sullen, forgotten, grunting, gesticulating horde of people abandoned in the dark, that want more but can’t always find a way to communicate that. And the people above, everyone else who is supposed neurotypical or neuro-conforming? They are part of a society that made you and they are always showing how ideal their lives are in social media, or relying on devices like the Alexa stand-in Ophelia to show how affluent they are. It all sometimes feels like a fun house of distorted reflections, or shadows.

I guess, in this context, I can understand where the fear and the anger, cultivated by Red — by the girl who used to be Adelaide and left to atrophy in her own stunted hatred — would want rise up, while still holding hands together in that Hands Across America gesture from 1986 which is a parody of that superficial sense of belonging that is just, at the end of the day, for appearances. There is nothing sincere about it, nothing warm, or loving. But, in the end it is a gesture of defiance, of anger against the order of things, or the lack of order: of the system’s broken nature.

Just like these words.

So who knows? Maybe a long time ago, I wandered through the dingy, cold hallways of a basement and encountered someone who looked me like having wandered away from falling asleep on a bus, or getting lost not knowing what recess was, and I strangled him and took his place like some changeling in the night. Or perhaps, unlike Red, I actually killed him from the start and — if the conceits of Us are true — then we shared a soul, and that is why I don’t always feel whole. And when you disregard this hypothetical situation as the metaphor it is, there have been many times I’ve had to distance or destroy something in my life to continue to somehow be the person that I want to be.

And sometimes, it doesn’t feel like enough.

Maybe, like the Tethered, I am my own Tethered reflecting the abuses of the unreasonable expectations that I inflicted on myself. And who hasn’t had a time where they have been so angry themselves, hated themselves so much for not performing the way they are expected to, that they don’t want to destroy the system that made these expectations? To burn the whole shallow mess to the ground? Or with a cry of primal, inarticulate rage strangle the part of you that’s angry at yourself, that hates yourself, that you feel is sabotaging both your life, and the relationships of those around like Adelaide, who was Red, finally did to Red who was Adelaide — who she thought she abandoned — in that dark bunk chamber where she thought she left her, her dirty little secret, even her secret in plain sight, for good?

I didn’t even think about it that way, or thought I would write much about this beyond superficial comparisons until I sat down — past five in the morning going six — and realizing just how much this film affected me. Surely there are dark tunnels, and hidden cities in Canada as they are in America. I mean, the North American system probably uses these places, these mentalities, to survive. And I have known people, people I loved or thought I loved, or people who loved me, or I thought loved me — or they thought they loved me — who are so similar to the people that Jordan Peele depict through his version of the doppelgänger as a central monster symbol in Us.

I think it safe to say that, in addition to feeling an affinity to the cognitive difficulties of the Tethered, I have also known, and loved people like Adelaide, and it is amazing how you can be so close to someone because of your shared differences, and so separate from them — and alone — for these exact same characteristics.

I guess I had more to say about Us than I thought beyond the fanfictions, and the film article I wrote a few months back. Certainly, this writing became more personal than even I’d anticipated. At the end of Us, Adelaide reunites with her family after rescuing her son Jason from her double. Jason is her biological son. Learning disabilities and neurodivergence according to some studies are genetic. They are passed down. Jason has always, throughout the film, fidgeted with a broken lighter and loves to hide in a cubbyhole in his grandparents’ cottage. He also prefers to wear a monster mask.

At the end of the film, he seems to realize that his mother is a Tethered, not long after she comes to grips with it herself. She puts her fingers on her lips. Her daughter Zora doesn’t seem to take after her, and her husband still doesn’t understand. Throughout the film, Adelaide is terrified of Jason becoming lost in this world, like she supposedly did, like she actually had been. Jason, for his part, takes his mask and places it back on his face: hiding himself, quiet, yet colourful. Defiant. Adelaide also puts hers back on, but it blends in, it’s unremarkable. She pretends to be mundane again. Jason’s mask, by contrast, still stands out and I think there is something to that. To accept that you are different, and to own it.

Or something to that effect. Personally, I just think that Jason’s monster mask is pretty cool.

Run, Rabbit

This is a graphic Get Out and Us crossover fanfic containing racism, graphic violence, and revenge. This is set in the sandbox of Jordan Peele. Reader’s discretion is advised.

Philomena King hides in the parlour with a flashlight.

The lights have gone out in their home. Everything has shut down. First, they were watching the news about that dreadful business. Rioting on the streets, looting, murder, rape. Perhaps it is the Race War that the Order had been concerned about in the 1970s. Heavens only knew, Roman Armitage had actually told them to expect this before his … transmutation. Philomena has never really paid attention to the particulars of this conflict, certainly not in the sense that Roman, or his son Dean, or even Logan would have understood: just that it was all the more reason to behold the Coagula, and become the next generation … the winning side.

But then the power went out. And she can’t find her husband anywhere. The police, whose commissioner is a personal friend of her husband’s … even he wasn’t answering their phone calls before the line gave out entirely.

And then, the noises began. They had both heard movement outside. Logan had gone to check, with his old shotgun. She told him to be careful. It has been two years, but even with his young, strong, chocolate body she can still taste her husband on her lips. She still sees him, in the twinkle of his eye, as he reassures her. It is just deer, he tells her, or animals. Heaven forfend that it is the beasts of this strange, millennial “flash mob” assault on their society: the one that the Order had been in the process of saving by preserving the minds and souls of titans of industry and science, of wealth and power, like Logan. This is what marijuana will get you, she thinks to herself, and a culture embracing fornication without the sanctity of marriage, and the order of more enlightened brains.

Perhaps … perhaps these ruffians, these hooligans in the red uniforms — those Antifa hoodlums and the Klan from Charlottesville — are the ones behind all of this: spreading their conflict throughout the whole nation.

Philomena, Mrs. Logan King, also admits to herself that for all of her husband’s power, and that of their friends, she is scared. The poor Armitages were gone, tragically killed in a fire. Poor Missy, and the brilliant Dean, their son Jeremy, and that sweet girl Rose. And Marianne and Roman, after their transmutation had succeeded. All gone. She knows how upset Logan is. Roman had been Logan’s friend for ages, and with the deaths of Dean and Missy, the Order of the Coagula’s greatest achievement had been lost.

She knows how keen Logan had been to secure her a new body, a new young host so that they could continue life together in the new world order. He never says anything, but she knows how devastated he was. He and the other Families, they all hoped to salvage what they could: to continue the transmutations, and give them a way … She has full confidence in her husband. They have been together, married, for decades. They will have more years, more centuries together. Some of the others of the Order still remain in all other places. They will regroup, and gather. They have the resources. And there is still time.

A sudden crackling sound breaks the tense silence. Philomena shrieks, putting the flashlight in front of her, quailing backwards near the sofa.

“Run, rabbit run, rabbit, run, run, run …”

A faded, melodious voice echoes through the room. Philomena gasps, her heart pounding in her chest as she sees a familiar figure, a silhouette, in front of the recorder player.

“… Logan?” She breathes. “Logan …” She gets to her feet. “You scared me half to death.” Relief fills her, followed by a spike of anger. “What is the meaning of …”

He turns around. Philomena opens her mouth, and then leaves her jaw hanging slack … as he walks forward, the object in his hands a golden, swift, moving blur in the glancing afterimage of the falling flashlight. Backing away, her chest filled with icy terror, Mrs. Logan King, Philomena, barely even has time to scream.

*

“Get back here!” Logan King hollers, chasing after the fleeing shape with his shot gun.

He saw him. He knows he saw him. The boy. The one from Lake Pontaco. He’d been told that Chris Washington was going to become the new host for that sarcastic, cynical blowhard Hudson. But then the Armitage residence burned down, killing everyone inside … destroying everything. All those years of good work, and achievement. Gone. He hadn’t told Philomena the extent of it. He hadn’t the heart.

He and the rest of the Order had agents in the police force and forensics, even if by necessity they didn’t know the extent of their masters’ work. Everything in the building had been unrecognizable, except dental records. But Marianne had died in a car crash. And Rose … the girl had been shot in the stomach, seemingly from his old friend’s — Roman’s — shotgun, while Roman himself had inflicted on himself a fatal head injury.

But Logan remembers. Andrew hasn’t been a bother to him in a long time. It had been two years, but the young man he once was had finally accepted his fate. Dark, youthful energy combined with old money and wisdom. He understood, now, what the two of them — what Logan King — can provide them. His guidance will continue to shepherd him, as will those that had also won transmutation and coagulation. But the experts had only found the Armitages, and the hosts of Roman and Marianne. Even the remnants of Hudson.

Yet they found no one else.

Chris hadn’t been in the wreckage. Logan hadn’t forgotten him. He remembers the boy and, in particular, his camera. He may have taken a great deal of photographs that day. He certainly did of him.

And now, here he is. He’s here.

“Get back here, Christopher!” He shouts, firing a shot into the distance, but losing him, him moving so fast into the trees. “You won’t get me! You will pay for what you did to the Order! To us!”

They offered the young photographer a chance of a lifetime. To be a host. To be accepted into the family. Into the Order. And he knows. He knows that Roman didn’t kill his own granddaughter. He knows the Armitages didn’t die from negligence or ill-maintenance of their home, despite what he and the others had the police report. They couldn’t pursue Chris officially. That was too risky. And even if he had photographs, it didn’t mean anything. They had done nothing wrong, nothing he could have documented. Even if he had worn the body of a friend of his, he could easily tell them that Andrew had found new love and that love itself had no boundaries. Didn’t the Order already prove that!? And Chris took that away from them!

He is a plant! He has to be! He sees the other’s uniform! Just like the rioters on the television! It is the Race War! The one that Roman warned them could happen. They hadn’t been foolish. Even Dean Armitage had been extremely concerned with the Elections, wishing for the millionth time that Obama could have had another term. If Logan hadn’t know any better, the forty-fourth President could have easily been one of them.

Someone had been hunting them. For two years, the other families had been growing … quiet. The Greenes. The Wincotts. The Jeffries. The Waldens. Even Tanaka hadn’t been returning his calls for a while, before he realized what had happened. Officially, everyone — even Philomena — believed they had died of old age, heart-attack, stroke, cancer, or just retired to Florida, the Bahamas, or the Cayman Islands.

Those were just cover stories. They had been murdered. All of them. In gruesome ways. Even the transmuted members, especially them. Some of them remained alive, of course, or in hiding, but it didn’t make sense. The Order had always been discreet, aside from that one unfortunate incident in 1963, when Roman and a much younger Dean had attempted to transplant the brain of a dying popular politician into a colored … a Black man, hoping they could get him to work with them, but whose memory lapses made him all but useless. And he had actually been a volunteer … But someone knew who they were, where they were, what they were capable of … and enough about their security to deal with them: to send a message.

That they were coming for them all.

Andrew’s youth feeds him with adrenaline, but Logan’s rage is his own as he thinks of what this boy has cost them all: he and the people he’s been working with. He must have been an agent of theirs. And now, he thinks he can come here and take what’s theirs away! It’s bad enough he destroyed the process that could save his beloved wife, that he had to hide all of this from her so as not to terrify her out of her wits, but now he and his friends have the temerity to come onto his property, and into his home to take what belongs to them!

There is no way that Logan King will let that happen.

He follows him deeper into the wood. He doesn’t know where his security team is, or the staff. Everything has gone mad now that this group has gone public. But their home still has defenses. He told Philomena to wait for him. He knows the rest of the Order, the ones no one could track or kill, and his agents in the police will be here soon. But he will be damned if some black pup, who wasted his potential, will terrify him.

And then … there is a flash.

It hits Logan. A spike right in his brain. He blinks. He shoots in the direction of the flash, the camera flash. There is another bright, poignant moment of light. He feels something trickle down his nose. No. He knows what this is. He tries to shoot again, but he … can’t aim. His arms are not steady. They are shaking. Just like they did before his rebirth. No. Now he knows what this is. He knows what the other is trying to do …

Another flash.

Logan drops the gun. The round goes off. He screams, the shot deafening him. There is a red shape. A blur. It hits him. He falls down, rolling through the leaves and the grass. His favourite strawhat … he feels it caught off his head in the wind. There are footsteps. And then … nothing.

He sways to his feet. Something is clamoring in him, but he … he ignores it. He looks around, splaying his fingers through the grass … But he can’t find it.

His gun is gone.

His heart beats fast. His anger is slowly eroding into what has been lying underneath it, in its own sunken place. Terror.

He hears footsteps. Not just one set. But a few.

“Run rabbit, run rabbit, run, run, run …”

That music. Logan furrows his pounding forehead. He remembers this song. It’s loud. It’s coming from his house. Through loudspeakers. He looks around, lost in the dark, trying to find a way out of this.

“Bang, bang, bang, bang goes the farmer’s gun …” 

He recalls Dean’s griping about deer. He even told Philomena that the noises outside their home were just animals on their land.

“Run rabbit, run rabbit, run, run, run …”

Logan King begins to run.

The music, that song. He and Roman used to listen to it, back in the Dirty Thirties. He played it for his grandchildren. But it feels different now. It has another connotation. He thinks he hears something … shriek. Something holler. An animalistic cry, followed by another inhuman sound. What is going on? Logan doesn’t understand. He is afraid. And his fear is matched and multiplied by …

Don’t give the farmer his fun, fun, fun ….”

A bright light burns through his retinas. Logan clutches his head. He hears something shout. There is a clang of metal. A scraping. A … sniping sound coming closer. Red blurs coming in and out of the forest. It’s harder to move his legs. It’s like he is fighting against molasses. Lactic acid burning through his lungs. His breath wheezes, rattling through his lungs — youthful lungs won with his wonderful, strong, lithe dark body — a sound he never thought he would hear again after his rebirth and combination with the young man that had so graciously been volunteered to extend his life.

He trips.

He rolls down the hill. The calls are coming closer. Logan tries to get up. He’s hit his head or the flash has burned through his brain. His body … it’s fighting him.

“We-we will die …” Logan rasps out, coughing, talking to himself, talking to him. “P-please. Andrew we need …”

Then, Logan sees someone standing over them … over him. He is dressed in a red jumpsuit. And out of the bushes, and trees, several more figures come out. Something hard smashes him in the face. And he sees no more lights. Only darkness.

*

“He’ll get by without his rabbit pie …”

Logan King wakes up. He’s in his parlour. He can hear his own record player playing … playing that song … that infernal song.

He is sitting in his easy chair, but he feels the cold bite of circular metal around his wrists and ankles. He looks down. It’s still dark, even with the dim illumination nearby. Someone has lit the fireplace. He sees that he has been handcuffed.

And … there are several figures around him.

Clang.

Something jars in his head, fighting to get out. He sees one of the figures. They are holding something.

Clang.

He winces. It can make it out. It’s a can. A plain metal can. And the other, they have a fork.

Clang.

The dull metallic sound is arrhythmic to the song from the record player. It is making Logan’s head hurt. He sees another form, kneeling in front of another shape prone on the floor.

“Who …” Logan starts. “Who are you … people. Where … where is my wife? Where is …” He groans, wriggling around. “W-where is Mena …”

There is no answer. The figure with the can continues to tap it with the fork. Logan smells something odd, almost a memory … except there is no antiseptic with it. No conversation from a video lens and a hospital bed, or an operating table.

“W-what is going on!” Logan roars, wincing at the pain, but trying to turn his fear back into anger. “What are …”

And then, the power comes back on. Or perhaps, it is turned back on. Logan looks at each of the figures. His eyes widen. No. This … this isn’t possible, he thinks to himself. He read the reports. He saw them. There is no way …

“Missy?” He says to the red garbed figure, with her tin can and fork. “Jeremy … Rose …” He looks at the others. “Marianne … Roman? Roman, is that you? No … you were dead. I … I saw the photographs. I … I was there!”

The Armitage Family, the Order of the Coagula, stand before Logan. They are dressed in red jump suits. He blinks, and sees that they are … paler. There are more shadows under their eyes. Somehow, they even seem more gaunt. Even Marianne and Roman, for their new dark skin, are more sallow. And he can … he can see … Their scars? There is nothing expert, or smooth about them. They have not been made by a professional surgeon, never mind a butcher. And why … why does Rose have a bandage wrapped around her stomach. And … Jeremy? The young man’s face … it is all bloated and distorted. Like it had been broken and badly reset. It’s disgusting. Marianne is moving awkwardly, like she had with her old body, but she looked hurt. He can see more scars on her body. And Roman … half of his face … The injuries are all crude imitations of what he saw in the photographs.

And all of them are carrying golden scissors.

“My god …” Logan feels his gorge rising. “What … what is happening? Is this … did you purge us? But … why? This wasn’t part of the plan? You organized this entire uprising? But … our plan … we were going go to gradually take over … to continue in the new generation. Roman … what are you … W-where …” He shakes his head at the screaming inside of it. ‘Where is Mena! What did you …”

And then, he sees the other figure get up. It’s Dean. His neck is scarred and at an awkward angle. There is no intelligence in his eyes, only a vacant malice. Yet his hands are the same. Steady, clever, patient. He sees the blade. And finally, he sees him lift an object towards them. His wife, Missy, makes a guttural sound which he returns. Logan can see a wound on her face. He understands these injuries and scars are all self-inflicted. But that thought is drowned out by what Dean is carrying. He walks across the room, towards another figure. Chris … he is with them. He’s holding his camera. A malicious smile is on his face, his white teeth a barring contrast with his dark skin, and cotton … cotton stuffed in his ears.

But Logan sees the object. He can’t turn away. It’s a head with half of its skull removed expertly. Its brain is exposed. Philomena’s face stares out at all of them, blankly, in frozen terror.

“M-Mena!” Something inside of Logan shatters forever. “Mena!”

He goes slack. It’s like he’s dying all over again. He sees Dean awkwardly pat Chris on the shoulder, who comes closer to him … with the camera. But he keeps moving as the others watch him, as Missy keeps clanging her fork against the tin. Over and over and over again.

“Run rabbit. Run rabbit, run, run, run …” 

“Stop …” Logan wheezes, tears flooding in his eyes. “St-stop it …”

But through all of it, he sees Dean approach another figure. He sees him. He tall, and dark. Slender. His hair is thick. There is a scar around his forehead. It looks eerily familiar. He takes the head … his dear wife’s head. He looks at Logan. Then back at the head. Logan sees the man has a beard. And then … he remembers. He knows why this man is so familiar.

The impossibility of all of this floods Logan with numbness as he sees the other take Philomena’s head … and throw it into the fireplace.

“No …” Logan sobs. “No …”

Then, the man with his face … the face he chose, comes towards him. He sees a pair of golden scissors with blood and hair and gore on their tips. As for the other figures … The flashing lights begin again, accompanied by the clanging, ripping something out from deep inside of him.

And Logan King begins to scream.

*

“So ev’ry Friday that ever comes along
I get up early and sing this little song …” 

U-Lee watches it happen.

He watches as Sate continues flashing his camera into … into his original’s body’s eyes. He hears the clang of Misses’ fork on her tin, driving them on, marking their new time against the old. Atlanta, with her deep frown, and William, with his hulking, restless body stand by along with John. Thorn, for her part, gravitates towards Sate as Deacon goes back to throw the woman’s body into the fire.

U-Lee comes closer. He sees the man, wearing his face, writhing in agony. Blood is pouring out of his nose and eyes. Sate grins as his camera, without a memory card, or image keeps bathing his victim in unforgiving light. Blank, waxy paper keeps falling to the ground from the old, vintage, 1980s camera. Their captive is howling, begging for mercy, convulsing with each flash of light, receiving no reply other than Misses banging on her tin next to his ear: her eyes intent and cold.

Then, the light in the man’s eyes seem to die. His face shifts. U-Lee watches it happen. He is glad he turned the power back on, after getting everyone through the security of this place, and dealing with the guards and defenses. He scratches at his beard. There is something he wants to see. Something he can’t name yet.

The other’s face changes. He sees the man … his expression looking more … familiar …

U-Lee holds up a hand and both Sate, and Misses stop. There is only silence, aside from a quiet weeping. U-Lee kneels down at the young man’s side. His face is twitching, hard and fast. Blood is pouring out of his nostrils into his mouth. But there is something else looking at him, at U-Lee. It looks closer to a mirror now. A distorted mirror.

A small, tentative smile forms on Dre’s broken face from the chair: an expression U-Lee barely recognizes as … relief. He speaks. His voice a whisper reminiscent of their Messiah.

“T-thank you …”

Then, his eyes roll back into his head, replaced by the terror of the other … thing inside of him. U-Lee takes his scissors, golden and perfect: baptized already in an original’s blood. He notices the man looking at his gloved hand as he raises them up … plunging them down into his skull.

Over and again …

U-Lee feels the splattered warmth on his face by the time he is done. There is still enough of his original’s face left to see his staring eyes. He looks down on him, as he reaches out his hand, not his gloved one … he bare one. And shuts them.

Thorn comes over to him, with Sate having one arm around her. They bump into each other. Their arms flail a little, but find purchase against one another. John and W take the body off of the chair, bringing it to Deacon. They place it on the floor as they had the other. They are going to leave soon. U-Lee feels the call, the plan, the impulse setting in, for all to be united. For no one to be left alone. No one to be left behind in the maze … lost …

They were Tethered to these creatures that hurt each other for gain. Now, they are only Tethered to each other. As U-Lee and the others wait for Deacon to be finished, to discard the bad parts into the fire, he hums along, along against the tune of the record player, discordant, uncaring.

“Don’t give the farmer his fun, fun, fun
He’ll get by without his rabbit pie
So run rabbit, run rabbit, run, run, run.”

11:11

Gabe Wilson sits wearily in the ambulance with his daughter. He’s worn and tired. Zora huddles with him. He’s exhausted, and hurt but he holds the bat against him like a talisman against the absolute fuckery of this entire situation. He slumps his shoulders, letting Zora lean into him. He looks at her, and realizes just how strong she’s been: strong a way that she should never have been strong …

He sees her driving the Tylers’ car into the girl that looks exactly like her, the mirror version of his baby girl’s eyes vague and almost uneven, and filled with a vacant hatred. 

He looks down at his hands. He should have been strong for her. For his family.

Gabe feels the man wearing his face, a snarling brute son of a bitch, easily dragging him away through the shards of glass, putting him onto that damned boat he’d been so proud of, pushing him in, the other trying to drown him, that piece of shit motor finally dragging the other off him instead to drown like a mad dog …

It’s all catching up with him, now that the adrenaline is wearing off. In some ways, it’s worse than actually being hunted by these … things. Because now, he has to remember it. He has to recall just how useless he was, how all his swagger, and ignorance of his wife Adelaide’s fears, his cockiness in thinking he could get crazy with those … bugmotherfuckers at his wife’s parents’ cottage, and how it was Adelaide that always picked up the pace, who did the work, who put him in his place when he couldn’t even protect her, or their children, couldn’t even get to …

He sees Jason’s double, the growling child with the mask, his face all burned underneath, as Jason walks backwards and his twin walks into the fire, burning … watching the other wearing his son’s body die while he did nothing …

“Jason …” He groans. “Adelaide …”

She’d run off, after him. The other … the other woman wearing his wife’s face must have snatched him. It was Adelaide’s worst fear. Her youngest, young like she had been, like she had tried to tell him back at the cottage, was gone. But he hadn’t wandered off like he had at the beach. He was taken. He …

“Dad …”

He feels his daughter clutch his hand. He exchanges a look with her, seeing her eyes wide. He looks up, from the ambulance. As he does so, Gabe remembers something else. Maybe it’s the blood on the stretcher. It might be the beautiful Santa Cruz summer sunlight that heralded the start of their vacation away from the cottage, shining on them, still warm even now. They’d come in and saw a man, an older man with long, messy, greying hair on a stretcher. They tried to make sure that Jason and Zora didn’t see, he and Adelaide, but they saw it. The man with the tattoo on his forehead.

And now, standing in front of them is the silhouette of another man, dressed in red, in another damned red jumpsuit, with long grey hair going down his back. His hands, Gabe can see them, are caked with drying blood. He recalls the picture Jason drew from the beach, the one Adelaide told him about, and he laughed off.

“Zora …” Gabe says, getting in front of her, as he would be damned if one of these fuckers came for his child, he would not face Adelaide with another failure when she came back with Jason. “Get behind me …”

And then, as the man began to turn around, the twin of the man whose dead body may have been in this very ambulance, other figures began to come towards them from either side.

Gabe watches them come. He isn’t feeling anything anymore. He’s numb. Zora doesn’t hide behind him. She comes to his side. He is about to tell her, again, to get back, but he sees a look in her eyes. The same as Adelaide’s. He sees them come towards them.

Gabe Wilson hefts the bat in front of him as best he can. There is only one real thing he can say now, at this point.

“Shit.”

*

With a wordless cry, a husky, rasping Adelaide Wilson wraps the chains of the handcuffs around Red’s throat. She sees the tear continue to trail down the other woman’s face. A part of her, some distant, lost, rational part of her knows that the woman is probably already dead. As resilient as the Tyler girl had been, she knows intellectually, that getting impaled with that one, instinctual, back-stab is a mortal wound.

Red’s eyes, almost dumb, so bovine, and deceptively docile now the hate animating them is draining away — seem to plead with some old sadness, some lost realization, but Adelaide is having none of it. She feels her mouth turn into a rictus of animal rage at this … thing that cut her, taking pieces off of her with each song movement, each dance. This shadow that hurt her family. That haunted her entire life. This is going to end. Adelaide can’t feel sympathy for her shadow.

She won’t.

There is a terrible, lingering, hiss and it takes Adelaide a moment to realize that it is coming from her vocal cords, and not her enemy. Red’s eyes stare into a distance only she can see now, her whispering voice terminated into a fading death rattle. Adelaide did it. At last, she killed her nightmare: her shadow.

At last, she’s free.

But then Adelaide recalls the beach, and the Tyler twins, and Zora, and Jason not being anywhere nearby. He’d wandered off. He did what she didn’t want him to do. Near the beach. Near the boardwalk. 1986. 2019. Her baby is gone. Jason. Jason … 

“Jason!” She calls out, finding her voice again, stumbling around her chain and tattered clothing. “Jason!”

And then she remembers. The cottage. Her parents’ cottage. Jason and his pranks. The tiny car wedged into the crack between the wall and the small storage door. Jason going off with … Pluto to “play” by Red’s order. She scrambles through the bunk area, sliding on the old sterile floor tiles in pain and exhaustion. Adelaide looks around, frantically, until … she finds it. She stumbles forward to the metal cabinet.

Somehow, she knows. She knew. Her heart is pounding. Somehow, there is still more terror left in her. She retraced her steps down the funhouse, to the Hall of Mirrors, to the mirror where … she had been. The escalator … a large escalator moving down into the earth with bright lights like Mall Christmas decorations … and an underground bunker, no a facility … with rabbits like the one from Alice and Wonderland …

How did she know? Was Red right? Did they … really have a connection, that day, when they faced each other in the Hall of Mirrors … knowing, somehow, mimicking her actions, coming to that confluence … that revelation …

No. It’s a mother’s intuition. She never wanted her child to travel through here. To be down here, in a place like this. A mother knows … she knows …

There is a smell. It had been faint in the old antiseptic and the scent of sweat and blood. She swings open the door.

“Jason!” Adelaide reaches forward, seeing him curled up, into himself, his mask … that silly mask over his face. She reaches out …

She crouches there … as Jason slumps out of the cabinet.

Everything seems to slow down. To be frozen in time. As still as this mausoleum to stale suffering, and stunted lives.

“No …” She reaches forward, her vision blurring, watery, taking him up … taking off his mask … “No …”

It’s like burned meat. Adelaide gags. She chokes. She hears someone screaming. The mask drops out of her hand. The rabbits, she thinks to herself, backing away from … it, from her … to the exit of the room …

The doubles, her father punching the wall. Her mother wandering away from her. All those people … those doubles … them …

A keening wail rips through Adelaide’s ears. Her chained hands roam, desperately, through her hair, clutching at her ears.

She walked backward, backward … up the glittering stairs … she never thought to use the stairs …

Red’s memories. Adelaide falls to her knees. She crawls towards, and away, from the shape she left. That she abandoned. Soulless. She said they were soulless. She was her shadow. They shared the same body … the same soul …

She comes to the mirrors. She is looking at a little girl. Just like her. Later, she asks her why she left her … why she didn’t take her with her …

Adelaide feels hot bile, or a sob rising in her throat, lowering her head onto the cold floor.

She sees the fear in the little girl’s eyes. Her. Her whole life. This girl had tormented her. Tormented her by her very existence. She … she got to see things while … she was down here, with these hollow, stupid, empty shells … No one would miss her … no one …

It takes some time, but Adelaide realizes she’s the one who’s screaming. She stares up … not at the bundle near the cabinet … the locker … but Red. Red near her bunk.

She handcuffs her to the bunk as she wakes up, taking her Thriller T-Shirt. She is still smiling at her. No one will miss her. No one … 

Adelaide’s trembling as she sees Red, lying there: her neck covered in the indentations of the chains of her own handcuffs. She looks down at the cuffs around her wrists. She takes the other end, the one not on her wrist, and chain: turning it around her neck, looking at Red, kneeling across from her …

She had felt her at her back through the mirror. She now knows who she is. She now knows what she’s going to do. Awareness rises blooms her brain as she turns around, a wide smile on her face, thinking of other thoughts, of the Red Queen. Off with her head … off with her … 

Adelaide draws the chain around her neck, twisting it. She begins to squeeze. Her mouth twitches. Her lips quiver again. Blood is pounding. Pounding. A distorted echo of the footsteps as she walked away, leaving … leaving the girl at the bunk … after she had wrapped her hands around her neck and squeezed … squeezed … carrying her down … leaving her here … Going up into the warm night air for the first time, not seeing it or feeling it through another’s eyes, and two people … not hitting a wall, not ignoring her … Taking her away, away to draw … like Jason from the beach … Jason … Jason … and to dance … to dance away from all of it … 

She squeezes tighter. She can’t breathe. She feels her eyes bulging … bugging out like hers did …

Pluto burned alive as she cried out for him to stop. Abraham dragged and lost in the water. Umbrae’s broken body in the trees, soothing her as she flailed, suffering, silent, as her baby girl died … 

Her arms suddenly lose their power. She drops to the floor on all fours. She looks up. She looks at her, her eyes gleaming with knowing in death that they did not know in life .. She left her here, she knows that now. She is breathing hard, tasting blood in her mouth. She can’t speak. She crawls forward. She is looking around, looking … And then, she finds them. They are right by her, where she left them.

Shaking, she looks at her double … a thought coming from the darkness of her mind.

“S-sister …” She croaks, finally. “Sisster … ssssissster … ssisstssers … scizz … zzz …” Her hand closes over the pair of handles on the floor. She picks them up. And then, she brings them up, towards herself.

And she uses them.

*

There was a White Rabbit.

An ambulance burns, in the distance. A man’s shoe is seen, tattered and torn, soaked in blood. There is a phone, lying on the ground. Its screen grows feebly in the waning sunlight, jagged broken in half by a crack on its surface.

Red walks past the ruins. She doesn’t see them. She doesn’t feel it. She doesn’t really feel anything. Still, from the corner of her eye, she sees the time flickering on the device. She inclines her head, freshly shorn. Her red suit is worse for wear. There’s a hole in it, but she has everything else. The glove. The suit. The golden scissors in her hands. She walks, the chain from her handcuff swings listlessly from her wrist against her thigh. Her face twitches from time to time, reacting to something unseen by anything around her, or herself.

Then, she stops. She inclines her head, blinking a few times. She sees the burning ambulance on the other side of the road now. She sees two sprawled forms.

“Abraham …” She hisses, the tone distant. “… Umbrae …”

Something trickles down her left eye. Then, she sees the battered phone near her feet. She thinks it belonged to someone she can almost vaguely recall. There is something painted on it, sprayed on, in large lurid red. They are numbers.

11:11.

Two sets of numbers, separated by a crack in the screen, severed uncleanly …

Red recalls the White Rabbit. He had a time piece, a stop watch, that never worked. He was always late, never on time.

He was always too late.

She turns away from the fallen object, and a world of originals destroyed by the Tethered. She has to go now. A part of her mind realizes that. She can see them, in the distance, a crimson line throughout the land, also dividing space and time. She has to join them. Red has to join her siblings, until the end of time. It is where she belongs, she thinks to herself as an open, empty smile flickers on her lips, her eyes wide and unseeing …

Red goes back to where she’s always belonged.